The American Society of Hematology (ASH) selected Jerome Seid, MD, as its 2020-2021 ASH Congressional Fellow. The Congressional Fellow program aims to connect hematologists to the policy-making process and educate congressional members and staff about issues that are important to hematologists and their patients. In his final column, Dr. Seid reflects on the past year spent working in the office of Nevada Senator Jacky Rosen.
As I finish this amazing year as the ASH Congressional Fellow, I’m feeling content but sad to relinquish my position. I’m also excited, and even a bit nervous, to return to practice. I view my nearly all-virtual fellowship experience as a resounding success. I say “nearly” because, during the brief but palpable summer lull in COVID-19 cases, I was able to make my way to Washington, DC, and the Senate office where I would have worked in a normal year. I spent a too-short week with the remarkable staff I had worked with remotely during the year, and met with Sen. Rosen, too. I left convinced that I had chosen the right legislative office and wanting to prolong the experience – a do-over even!
During that week in DC, I was able to put the final touches on the two palliative care bills I had worked on throughout the fellowship. Obtaining bipartisan support for the bills was challenging and gratifying, but it does not compare to the exhilaration of walking them over to the Democratic cloakroom in the Capitol to introduce them! It is truly difficult to describe the experience, which might seem mundane to Capitol staffers, but was a once-in-a-lifetime event for me! I applied to the ASH Congressional Fellowship with the conviction that a bill to improve access to transfusion within the Medicare Hospice Benefit – consistent with the a policy statement published by ASH in 2019 – would be an achievable goal. I cannot express adequately the satisfaction I feel at having accomplished it!
So, what will I do now with the knowledge I have gained from this experience? At the beginning of the fellowship, one of my goals was to immerse myself in federal legislative processes so that I could return to my Michigan practice with more confidence and better understanding of health care policy and politics. For example, inequities and disparities in health care access are more apparent than ever, and I look forward to evaluating how my own practice functions in these areas. I intend to use the experiences of this past year to be more deliberate in my own advocacy efforts with the legislators in Michigan. Having now worked both sides of the constituent meeting conference table, I have gained valuable perspective that I hope will translate into advocacy success. Using local and regional opportunities to inform and teach other physicians, I hope to increase appreciation of the importance of advocacy. It is a critical, but often overlooked, component of patient care that helps create more equitable and functional health care delivery for the benefit of patients and providers at all stages of their careers.
Another welcome aspect of the experience was the opportunity to engage with the ASH Committee on Government Affairs, to which I provided updates on my work. Near the conclusion of the fellowship, I was given the added pleasure and privilege of being asked to serve on that same committee. I look forward to continuing to actively participate and contribute to ASH’s advocacy efforts.
As I conclude my last “Note from the Hill,” I want to emphasize the importance and merits of the ASH Congressional Fellowship. To readers who may be considering applying but have questions or reservations about doing so, I can confidently say that there is truly no downside. I have frequently wished I had been aware of this opportunity sooner.
Formal ASH sponsorship of an AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowship is a relatively recent development, and I haven’t found a limit to the benefits that fellows can accrue, no matter where they are along the practice spectrum from trainee to established practitioner. I encourage ASH members to not be dissuaded from applying to the fellowship because they do not have a platform or specific topic for Congressional action. Yes, there are criteria, but being passionate about patients, committed to the mission and goals of ASH, maintaining an open mind, and being willing to try something outside one’s own comfort zone seem to be the most important qualifications in worthy candidates. Fellows working with Congress can readily achieve their goals of making an impact on heath policy, and achieving personal growth is guaranteed.
Go ahead and apply – you will not be disappointed.